New Zealanders have the right to be protected against dishonest people and fraudsters and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) will perform its role to fulfil its obligations, Chief Executive and Director Julie Read said.
“This Office has set good precedents with excellent team work and I am privileged to have the opportunity to bring fresh perspectives and do our job even better,” she said, speaking to Indian Newslink during an interview at her office prior to the Christmas holiday season.
As published in our October 1, 2013 issue, Ms Read took charge of her current assignment on October 21, at a time when New Zealand faces the serious challenges of combating collapse of financial companies, directors of companies defrauding depositors, money launderers and others.
Established under the Serious Fraud Office Act 1990, its main role is to detect, investigate and prosecute perpetrators of serious financial crime. Its activities over the years have involved crime related to investment, corruption and forgery, advertising invoice scam, insurance, forgery and secret commission. It has also handled foreign cases.
Ms Read said, “New Zealand should do what should be done.”
“Our 2012-2015 Statement of Intent aims to ensure a confident business environment that is largely free of financial crime and a safe and just society that is largely free of fraud, corruption and bribery. SFO is a completely independent body and administers the ‘Vote Serious Fraud’ (essential to ensure to investigate and prosecute cases without political and ministerial intervention), while the Police Minister is responsible for the financial performance of SFO,” she said.
She said that as an organisation keen to prevent fraud, SFO works with a number of agencies overseas and that the formation of the Economic Crime Agencies Network (ECAN) early last year was a step in the right direction.
SFO New Zealand, SFO UK, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (USA), the European Anti-Fraud Office (European Union based in Belgium), Economic Crime Directorate (London City Police), Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (Singapore) Anti-Corruption Commission (Malaysian) and agencies representing a number of Asian countries are among its members.
In 2012, SFO conducted seven investigations jointly with other agencies.
Ms Read said that SFO is constantly aware that New Zealand businesses and people are exposed to risks as they increasingly deal with some countries in Asia and other parts of the world where bribery could be seen in a different perspective.
“Our ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ is directed towards preserving the status of New Zealand as the ‘least corrupt country’ (according to the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International), ensuring that unhealthy practices are not allowed into the country. We do collective work and cooperate with other agencies to achieve our objectives,” she said.
Key statistics for 2013 are still under compilation but Ms Read believed that they are likely to be similar to the previous year.
In 2012, SFO received 435 complaints, scrutinised 287,779 documents as evidence, conducted 30 new investigations, commenced 16 prosecutions and charged 29 individuals.
“Not all complaints fall under the jurisdiction of our Office and not all complaints are pursued. Gathering proper evidence and conducting thorough investigation form the core activities prior to pressing charges and prosecution. In 2012, the conviction rate was 93%, while the rate of custodial sentences secured was 67%. The average imprisonment sentence was 4.67 years,” Ms Read said.
Prior to her arrival in this country, she was Special Counsel (Litigation) at the Chief Legal Office within the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC). As well as being a senior executive responsible for the conduct of ASIC litigation, she was the Minister’s delegate responsible for approval of requests for assistance from foreign regulators.
Ms Read was also the Regional Commissioner of ASIC for Tasmania.
She represented ASIC on the International Organisation of Securities Commissions Committee for cross-border securities law enforcement matters from 2006 to 2012.